The US Supreme Court has struck down a law which denied federal benefits to same sex couples.
The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defined marriage as:
“…the legal union of a man and a woman as husband and wife, and a spouse is a husband or wife of the opposite sex.”
The definition meant that gay couples were excluded from various health, tax and financial benefits. These included insurance for government employees; social security payments following the death of the person’s partner and the right to jointly file tax returns.
But the Supreme Court has now ruled, by a 5-4 majority, that DOMA’s definition of marriage is unconstitutional.
In the court’s ruling, Justice Anthony Kennedy declared:
“DOMA writes inequality into the entire United States Code. Under DOMA, same-sex married couples have their lives burdened, by reason of government decree, in visible and public ways. DOMA’s principal effect is to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal.”
However, the court declined to rule on Proposition 8, an amendment to the California Constitution which forbade same sex marriage within the state and which was later declared unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court’s decision means such marriages can now resume in California.